Big 12 announces plans to play fall sports with intensified testing

By: - August 12, 2020 1:14 pm
Kansas State University athletic director Gene Taylor said the decision to play this fall is in line with the desires of players, coaches and administrators (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas State University athletic director Gene Taylor said the decision to play this fall is in line with the desires of players, coaches and administrators (Screenshot by Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Student-athletes and coaches in Manhattan and Lawrence let out a collective sigh of relief Wednesday morning as the Big 12 conference announced its intentions to carry on with plans for fall sports.

All fall sports will commence after Sept. 1. Football conference play begins Sept. 26 with any nonconference games to be played before that date.

To ensure a safer return, Big 12 members committed to a more rigorous testing process, including up to three tests per week for high-impact sports like football, soccer and volleyball. Players who recover from illness and want to return to play will undergo various tests, including an EKG and cardiac MRI, to confirm their health.

“The virus continues to evolve and medical professionals are learning more with each passing week,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “We are comfortable in our institutions’ ability to provide a structured training environment, rigorous testing and surveillance, hospital quality sanitation and mitigation practices that optimize the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

The Big 12 conference confirmed a fall sports season following a Tuesday conference call with the conference’s board of directors, key figures from all 10 member schools and medical experts. They join with the ACC and SEC, which confirmed fall seasons yesterday

University of Kansas head football coach Les Miles voiced his support for the decision and emphasized a cautious return to athletics.

“We will continue to prepare for our season cautiously, while also relying on the direction and oversight of Kansas Team Health medical professionals to provide our players with a game plan that promotes their health and safety,” Miles said.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary Lee Norman was less confident in how safe football could be.

“Well, there’s no question that both to the athletes themselves and to the coaching staff and the spectators – it puts them at increased risk,” Norman said. “I mean, the Big Ten and PAC-12 didn’t make that decision lightly. As you know they canceled those.”

Now that a season is confirmed in the Big 12, however, attention turns to the issue of seating capacity. The decision is in the hands of each institution to make in accordance with local regulations.

In Riley County, Kansas State University would be limited to the current maximum of 2,000 people for any indoor or outdoor venue. Bill Snyder Family Stadium usually seats 50,000.

“We know it’s going to be limited, but we are working with county health officials to know what steps we need to take to get the approval above the 2,000 number,” said K-State athletic director Gene Taylor. “We hope to have our operations plan out this week and a number of fans shortly.”

The decision came down to the student-athletes’ desire to play this fall, Taylor said. After speaking with medical experts and hearing health precautions the conference would take, Taylor said he felt more confident in the idea of playing sports in the fall.

However, Taylor added, Sept. 12, when K-State is scheduled to play its first nonconference game, is still a long way off.

“I see this as a commitment to our student-athletes because when we talked to them, they wanted to play, but they wanted to be safe while they play,” Taylor said. “If at any point anything changes, we can pivot and stop the season.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.